On Friday I read this article, published in the local Leader Newspaper. The article was based on a complaint made by an older sibling of a student at Roxburgh Homestead PS about Twitter being used in a year two classroom…which to any reader probably sounds like an irresponsible thing for a school to allow. These views were backed up by “cybersaftey expert”, Susan McLean.
I have been a longtime advocate for using Twitter in education, in fact, it was more than three years ago now when I started using Twitter to model and teach authentic global digital citizenship. It has been almost two years since this article was published in The Age, celebrating the positives use of such a tool in a variety of educational contexts.
What worries me the most is that this conversation still needs to be had. Educators who understand the importance of modelling and using social media with students in a positive way, and at the same time as teaching them the required skills to allow them to be safe online are constantly fighting an uphill battle when negative articles like this one are published.
Susan McLean, the “cybersaftey expert” and former policewoman suggests that “the problem is you’re exposing children to a world that technically they’re not supposed to be in”. I agree, yes children are not ‘technically’ supposed to be using social media at a young age but it is naive to assume that this would be their first exposure to it. The fact is many children are already using social media and most times without any supervision and guidance. A study conducted by the Queensland University of Technology found that Australian children were on average a little under 8 years old when they began using the internet (Green et al., 2011). Given that there are 2.8 million Twitter accounts in Australia (Christensen, 2014), my guess is more than a few were started and are used by kids.
I think it is important to explain that the use of classroom Twitter accounts does not mean students just get to go off and Tweet about anything without teacher supervision. It is a modelled and guided experience closely monitored by teachers. A lot of the time classroom Tweets are co-constructed as a class and replies are read in similar ways. Through classroom Twitter accounts not only do students have the opportunity to share their work with an online audience but they get to learn about digital safety and citizenship authentically, and as any teacher knows- these ongoing authentic experiences far outweigh any ad-hoc, tokenistic ‘cybersafety’ days and one off lessons. While these days and sessions led by experts still hold a valuable place, they only offer a bandaid solution.
I wholeheartedly disagree with McLean’s claim that this use of Twitter is “not protecting children’s safety” and argue that it does, in fact, offer a way to teach children how to behave and interact safely and appropriately in an online world.
So many students under the age of 13 are already using a variety of online tools and social media. Much of the time this is done without parent supervision or permission. We can not hide students away from social media or bury our heads in the sand and pretend they are not using it. It is true that children are faced with many risks when online, as educators I believe it is important that we acknowledge this, be progressive and do something about it. Green et al. (2011) also noted that “while a minority of children are upset by online risks, many benefit from the advice and tools available to them. The risks and opportunities of the online world go hand-in-hand for children and it is important that we avoid being overly restrictive”.
Sure, we may not be able to prevent everything negative before it reaches children but through the use of Twitter, the conversation is open and we can show them what to do if they are feeling unsafe and how to block and report unwanted contact. We can discuss privacy settings and share strategies and positive use cases. But we don’t do this as a one off, box ticking lesson- it is an embedded practice in the classroom.
Classroom Twitter accounts are a monitored, secure and protected experience for students to learn how to become responsible and safe social media users and global digital citizens. So instead of slamming the use of Twitter in education, let’s celebrate teachers like Jess from Roxburgh Homestead PS and congratulate the school on taking a stand to support the ever increasing need for positive examples of social media in education.
Some more great examples of class Twitter accounts:
Christensen, N. (2014). New study suggests there are 2.8m Australian Twitter accounts. Retrieved from http://mumbrella.com.au/qut-study-suggests-2-8m-twitter-australian-accounts-242325
Green, L., Lumby, C., Cunningham, S., Bennet, T., Thoo, M. (2011). Risk and safety for Australian children on the internet. Queensland University of Technology. Retrieved from http://www.cci.edu.au/about/media/media-release-aussie-kids-%E2%80%98earliest-internet-users%E2%80%99